Lesson #115: How to Bribe Yourself to Work Out

by Rachel on January 5, 2012

With goals on everyone’s minds this week, it’s a good time to talk about rewards. After all, the bribery process is part of the planning process, right?

To be honest, I didn’t used to get motivated by rewards. Or at least not tangible ones. You’d think that because I’m materialistic, I’d do anything to earn something new and shiny. But I always prioritized intangible rewards, like getting attention from a guy or looking good at Formal, over stuff. I’d hit the snooze and cost myself a new iPod, but I’d get up at any hour and do any workout if you told me it would make a boy like me.

Eventually, though, my shallow qualities had a showdown and because I learned that nothing I did to change my appearance could make boys like me, stuff won. So now that I do reward myself a bit more, I have learned a few things about how to do workout rewards.

1. Make it something you can live without; otherwise, you’ll just buy it anyway. This is crucial and it seems obvious, but I used to do this and I’ve seen other people do it too. If your reward for a going to eight spin classes in a month is, say, getting your hair blown out on the day of your friend’s wedding, and you can currently list 20 reasons why you want/need that blowout, you will, without question, talk yourself into getting that blowout whether you go to spin class or not. So make it a non-essential item. When I was working out at Define, I really wanted a pair of the grippy socks that all the regulars wore during classes. I didn’t need them, of course…and that’s exactly why I wanted to earn them. But on that note…

2. Don’t make your reward something that you really need to work out effectively. This is another one that so many people do. “If I run three times a week for a month, I’m going to buy myself new running shoes! That way I know I’ll actually use them!” See, this sounds good in theory, but trust me — if you’re currently wearing shoes that give you blisters, you’re turning your reward into something you can’t live without. (See #1). You’ll either cave and buy the shoes in a week or you won’t ever stick with running. If you need new gym clothes, buy the damn gym clothes now and trust that sometimes, preemptive motivation goes far. If you’re worried you’ll lose your motivation by doing this, make a deal with yourself that if you don’t hit your goal, you’ll donate the exact amount you spent on the reward to a political cause you hate. All that said…

3. Rewards related to working out are often good. For example, you might decide that your reward for your month of running is an entry fee into a pricey race you want to run. When you do something like this, your motivation increases on so many levels. Now you’re motivated because you really want to run the race…but you’re also motivated because you want to get in shape to run the race. Another workout-related idea that I love: when I taught spin, one of my students made my Saturday spin class her reward for getting in all her other workouts that week. Making your favorite workout a treat…how smart is that?!

4. Think stocking stuffers. Sure, a $100 massage sounds nice, but really? For a month of working out? Come on. If you always think big, start weaning yourself off of pricey rewards; you shouldn’t need to drop that much cash to get your ass to the gym. To me, the best rewards are things that would qualify as stocking stuffers: small things that are very you and make you happy. Those socks I worked so hard for? Cost $10. I’m also willing to do just about anything for pretty measuring cups from Williams-Sonoma or a new mug from Anthropologie, both of which are under $15. Start with a small reward; you might be surprised how little it takes.

There are plenty of great non-stuff rewards. For me, there’s the “not wasting money on a membership I’m not using” reward, the “I dont have to buy bigger pants so now I can spend that money on nail polish and Starbucks” reward, the “not acting like a way-too-stressed-out-biatch because I haven’t done a downward dog all week” reward, the “hopefully I’ll live a little longer” reward, and the “I’m going to be delusional for a minute and think I can get arms like Michelle Obama” reward. And that stuff counts. But I know it will only take me so far. If I’m going start pushing myself this year to do more challenging workouts, a tangible reward every now and then is just the thing to make things fun and keep me going.

What are your favorite workout rewards?

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amy January 5, 2012 at 9:56 am

Oh man, literally just yesterday I decided that my motivation for losing weight this year is going to be ‘bribery’. Last year it was ‘getting healthy’, which worked fairly well but didn’t get me to where I want to be. This year when I lose 45 pounds I’m buying an iPad (and I know it will probably take me more than a year). It’s something that I really really want, but I KNOW I don’t really need it, which is why I haven’t purchased it yet. I figure go big or go home lol.


2 Rachel January 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

That is an AWESOME reward and for 45 pounds, it feels appropriate. Good luck…and keep us posted!


3 deva @ deva by definition January 5, 2012 at 10:17 am

New socks is one of my favorite reward – not necessarily workout socks, but funky, holiday-themed socks. Also body lotions from bath and body works, or a bath bomb from Lush to soak in after I complete one month of 12+ mile weeks.

Sometimes I do mini-rewards: if I run 4 miles this morning then I can have a cinnamon roll for breakfast/stop at caribou for a latte/cappuccino/get an egg mcmuffin for breakfast (I did that once, not so good idea, I do better with a latte). That works on those mornings it’s 25 degrees out with a wind chill of 17 and I don’t have any desire to get out of bed at. all. A cup of coffee as my reward for getting up, getting dressed, and going running? Worth every step.


4 Rachel January 5, 2012 at 10:36 am

YES! Hot coffee is a really fantastic reward for workouts. Even though it’s not cold down here, I find that it’s still is comforting and takes the edge off an early morning workout.

PS Get out of my brain.


5 Deva at deva by definition January 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm

But, but… I’m not trying to be :)

I love coffee. Love love. Especially post workout.


6 Melissa January 5, 2012 at 11:35 am

I have a really busy schedule starting next week with Swedish classes at night after work (we just moved to Sweden). And one thing I’m missing most is time to read and relax. I’m going to try to figure out a way to make that a reward. Maybe if I work out all week I can take a night off from everything and watch a movie/read and not feel guilty about it.


7 Nicole @ Giraffelegs January 5, 2012 at 11:37 am

Completely agree with #1. I will somehow justify that pedicure, no matter if my ass get in shape or not.
Good tips lady.


8 Kionda January 5, 2012 at 11:44 am

I don’t have any yet. I definitely need to come up with some. Bribery may be just the thing to get me really going this year. I’m thinking of maybe getting some compression gear for my runs. I haven’t needed them so far. I hear they work wonders.

BTW, loved what you suggested in number two. Adding a consequence such as that for not completing one’s goal sounds like a great way to stay motivated. Who wants to support something they have no interest in? Brilliant if you ask me! :D


9 [SMASH] January 5, 2012 at 11:44 am

No rewards set for myself right now but I’m really getting into a working out groove, so hopefully an improved body will start show it’s ulta-rewarding self soon! :)

So I saw this launched a few days ago: GymPact (www.gym-pact.com). It’s sort of a reward/punishment for going/not going to the gym. You set your workout schedule and rest days for the week. Then you set your price. (I think there’s a minimum of $5.) For every scheduled workout you miss, they charge your card $5. If at the end of the week, you make all your workouts (or a good percentage, I forget…) and you get a portion of that pool of money they collected from the non-workout-ers. (Watch the video or read the FAQs.) I thought it was kinda interesting.


10 megan January 5, 2012 at 11:47 am

i used to have a jar on my dresser, and every time i went to the gym i gave myself $5! so then i had some cash at the end of the month, and seeing a jar of bills is pretty motivating! i don’t belong to a gym now, but maybe i should use the money jar towards my free workouts…


11 Amanda December 5, 2013 at 2:29 am

That’s actually really smart to pay yourself for every mini goal or just plain goal that’s accomplished… But how do you give yourself money? Take it out of your pocket and then hand it to yourself?


12 Rachel January 5, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Great post! I find that whenever I work out I simple feel better…all week long and it becomes kind of addictive to me. That motivates me to work out! For instance, two weeks ago I vowed to take a core fusion class every day, and after two days of it, I almost HAD to go. I wanted to go… for me.

Last week with the holidays and such I slacked majorly, and turned into a grumpy, bitchy, PMS-y girl. That’s when I knew I needed to go back haha…


13 Kavi @ Lab to Fab! January 5, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I’m motivated by the “non-stuff” rewards you mentioned, like not wanting to waste money already spent on a membership, and the feelings of post-workout stress reduction! Although a cute mani/pedi to stare at in the gym mirrors while practicing yoga might not be a bad reward either ;)


14 Katie @ Livehalffull January 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I agree with you on the dollar amount. Big goals, maybe you can spend $100. But going to the gym for a month? That’s more than a membership.

I started half marathon training this week and I am thinking about buying myself one i-tunes song per run. Then, when I get to race day I’ll have a full new playlist.

Another reward I am doing this month is tracking my food. After Demember’s eat-a-thon, I wanted to be more mindful of what I am eating so this month I am keeping a food log. If I do this, I’m going to buy myself cute measuring cups from Anthropologie. Because I have been lusting over them for about a year and I need to justify this purchase!


15 Mel January 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm

After participating in #DedicatedDecember (via Janetha’s blog) last month, I realized how motivating it felt to log my workouts because every day I missed, I was missing out on the chance to win a prize.

I just tried to duplicate the concept by creating a workout log “Star Chart” spreadsheet for my friends and I on Google Docs. Over the course of 30 days, I’m hoping I can accumulate some prizes to give away randomly. I think I need to bribe myself by knowing other’s will notice if I slack off.


16 Kristine B January 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I’ve tried things to motivate me in the past and always failed miserably. I started exercising again on Christmas Eve, figured why wait til the 1st, and have seen results already having exercised 9 of those days and tracking it. I’m also tracking my food which I’m partly doing because I’ve recently found out I have food allergies and have to be very careful what I eat. What’s most motivating to me is seeing and feeling changes in my body. I can see a difference in my upper arms, they’re not so darn dimply. Plus I was able to recently buy size 12 pants of different brands instead of the usual 14. Maybe dumb luck but I was pysched about it! Plus I just turned 40 so life is taking on a whole new meaning for me now.


17 Kristine B January 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I think I will make a bribe with myself. I was reading your “how-to-make-working-out-your-hobby” and saw the biking and hot damn, I do want a new bike! My 1976 Puegeot is nice and all but a brand spanking new one would make my day! And it’s definitely not something I’d just go out and buy. Sweet!


18 Megan C. January 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I have used a similar idea for years but I like your concept of making it something you don’t need. Because I’ve done the running shoes reward before. This time I’m setting goals both for doing workouts and weight lost.

I like the idea of rewarding with workout equipment or clothing. For example I would like a Bosu Balance Trainer but I don’t need it I can use the one at the gym so I plan on using that as a reward if I get my workouts in.


19 Cynthia (It All Changes) January 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Cute workout clothes are always my reward. I have workout clothes that are functional but just look old. I’m slowly replacing them as I work hard at my goals.

You are so right on the shoes though. I made that mistake once and spent 8 weeks in Physical Therapy with hip problems. I will not make that excuse again.


20 Katie January 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Well, the gym where I work has a tanning bed. I used to reward myself by saying that I couldn’t tan unless I got a good workout in. (You are probably thinking: Why would she go to the gym just to tan, but since I work there, I am already there. Now you are probably thinking, if she is already there, how hard is it to motivate oneself to workout. Actually, really hard. When I’ve been working all day, I just want to get the heck out there. Luckily I am starting an internship in a couple weeks, so I will be taking a break from working there.) Anywho, I nixed that reward when I had to get a pre-cancerous mole removed from my arm. I don’t tan anymore, so I need to work on a new reward system.

P.S. I just recently found your blog, and I’m loving it. Thanks for the post!


21 Megan January 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Pedicures always feel great, but they feel even better after a 10 mile run! My rewards to myself when I was training for Boston were pedicures and massages. I’m not currently training for anything, but I dig this rewards system for normal, everyday workouts. Thanks for the suggestions :)


22 Jess-ThatJessGal January 8, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I love the idea of the “reverse goal” using your “punishment” of giving to the opposite political party. Republicans freak me out SO much that is the perfect motivator! Also, I sign up for races and such because then I have to train (mostly-I just wrote a post on being a racer, not a runner last week) to complete them.


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